For The Record

Issue 15 2015

EN / FR

IOC Athletes’ Commission member James Tomkins, seven-time world champion and three-time Olympic gold medallist, speaks to For the Record about his experiences.

What is your earliest sporting memory?

My first sporting memory that made an impression on me was an Australian tennis match between John Newcombe and Jimmy Connors.

This was the first real sports event that I took notice of, Jimmy Connors won because he used topspin in his forehand (which was uncommon at the time). My parents reminded me recently that straight after the match I spent two hours hitting balls against the garage door until I could do topspin too. I was four or five years old at the time! That’s when I knew I had “get up and go”.


How and when did you get into rowing?

It was my second day at a new school in Melbourne. One of the teachers approached me and asked if I wanted to try rowing because I was so lanky. I love the water and being in boats, so it was an easy fit. I was 14 years old when I first got in a boat. In preparation, I sat on my skateboard and put it in the gutter and practiced on dry land.

In the boat, it all made sense straight away on the water. I got the hang of it very quickly but others did not. My first rowing race was in a coxed four (four rowers with one oar each and one cox). It was only a short race but our cox steered us into a bank!


Is your family involved in sport?

I am actually the only rower in the family. My Dad, a good sportsman, ran middle distance; Mum was a middle-distance swimmer, so I have good genes! My sister isn’t into sport but has the brains of the family.


What was your favourite Olympic moment?

Barcelona was an amazing experience. It was my first Olympic gold medal. We were red-hot favourites so the pressure to perform was enormous. My time in Athens was special also. Athens is the birthplace of the Olympics - there was so much history. I also thought this would be my last Olympic Games. I can’t pick my favourite Olympic medal - it would be like picking my favourite child!


Can you describe how you felt winning a gold medal at Barcelona, Atlanta and Athens?

All wins were unbelievable for different reasons! Barcelona – the expectation on us to win was enormous. We won the preceding two World Championships. Even our opposition expected us to win! However, we still had to go out and perform. We crossed the line and I remember feeling an incredible sense of relief. Five minutes later, we were singing the national anthem and going bananas!

For all three gold medals - it’s interesting - afterwards you have this incredible sense of happiness. It is sort of like a Buddhist approach – you have no concerns about future or past – you are just really happy at the moment. Winning a gold medal is such a satisfying feeling – one of contentment.

For the bronze medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympic Games, it was a very emotional time. My normal rowing partner, Drew Ginn, developed a severe back injury which meant he was unable to row. Six weeks before the Games, our reserve, Matthew Long, jumped in the boat and had to learn how to row on the other side. This was a difficult feat so to get away with a bronze medal was fantastic!


How did you find the transition from athlete to post-athletic career after you retired?

I was very fortunate that the river that we trained on was in the middle of the city of Melbourne. This meant that I was able to train and study, and then train and work all the way through my athletic career, in financial services. I think that this is a classic example of having a good balance of sport and work. I’m currently working in global asset management for UBS.

Personally, I think that focusing on one thing, like your sport, limits your perspective on life. Having another hobby or commitment (be it work or something else) helps to keep the mind fresh, and brings motivation, which benefits your athletic performance.


Can you please tell us more about the projects that you have been involved in within the IOC Athletes’ Commission?

I was in a working group for Olympic Agenda 2020. It’s crucial that athletes have a strong voice within the Olympic Movement and I feel very privileged to be an IOC Athletes’ Commission member in this regard. I also sit on the Olympic Programme Commission, which is really interesting after Olympic Agenda 2020. I’m looking forward to seeing how Olympic Agenda 2020 will shape the events programme at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games.

Finally, tell our readers what you like to do to relax.

I really love watching my kids play sport - at the moment they are playing lots of basketball. I really like playing golf and surfing to relax.


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